A Dietitian's Guide to Eating at these Popular Restaurant Chains
Updated: Jun 26, 2020
Where you live determines your food environment and plays a critical role in the food decisions that you make on a daily basis. When I moved from NYC to Cleveland, one of the biggest things I noticed was that the food environment was very different. In NYC, there are salad shops on every corner, 100% gluten-free or vegan-dedicated restaurants, and it was a lot easier to eat ‘healthy’ in this environment when you're surrounded by tons of healthy options. Cleveland, like many cities outside of NYC, has a wonderful food scene, but it certainly takes more effort and research to find quality food options when eating out and it can be difficult to find good options if you have dietary restrictions, allergies or preferences.
If you travel a lot or live in a city similar to Cleveland, you can probably relate to feeling like there are no ‘healthy’ options when eating out. While I’m a proponent of homemade meals and bringing your own snacks, we’ve all found ourselves in a situation when eating out is the only option. So I’m here to help you out. I put together a list of national, popular, fast-food/fast-casual restaurant chains that you can find in almost every city, airport and on any road-trip: Starbucks, Panera, Au Bon Pain, Chipotle, Potbelly, and Einstein's Brothers Bagels.
These are also places that a lot of my clients (in Cleveland and other cities) find are sometimes the only available option and struggle with finding orders that make them feel good or align with their health goals.This is not an endorsement for any of these restaurants - they are just a few places that came to my mind and often come up with clients.
I’m giving you my recommended orders, ideas for what to eat, and how I would navigate the menu at each of these popular restaurant chains. I really believe you can always find something that works for you at almost every restaurant. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask questions, make substitutions, and get creative with your order. Mix and match different items to create a balanced and satisfying meal. Email or message me if there’s a restaurant that you want me to add to this list and provide recommendations. I hope this is helpful!
My go-to order is a cafe au lait or latte with almond milk. Of course, black coffee or plain espresso is also a good option!
Starbucks always has cinnamon and nutmeg spice shakers - I like to add a dash of both to my drink for extra flavor and health benefits.
Skip the sugar and always ask for unsweetened beverages
Skip the whipped cream.
If you really miss the flavor and sweetness in your coffee, you can order your drink ‘skinny’ or ‘light’ as you transition away from sugar. These options are made with nonfat milk, sugar-free syrup and no whipped cream.
Oatmeal! Starbucks always has plain oatmeal on the menu. They also usually sell bananas and individual nut butter packets. I will purchase those and add to the plain oatmeal to boost the flavor and nutrition. I wouldn't recommend using their provided oatmeal toppings of brown sugar + dried fruit. Sometimes they offer fresh blueberries which is a great option to mix into the oatmeal!
Banana (sold at register) + individual nut butter packet
Turkey Bacon + Egg White breakfast sandwich
Spinach, Feta + Egg Breakfast wrap
Kind Bar (they usually sell these at the register) and fresh fruit
Perfect Bar (this is a protein bar often sold at Starbucks. You can find them with the refrigerated food)
Eggs & Cheese Protein box
The individual guacamole/avocado spread- a great healthy fat to add to any of the above.
My order: tall cafe au lait with almond milk, banana and an individual nut butter packet or Kind bar.
Avocado and Egg sandwich
Mediterranean Egg Wrap
Oatmeal: skip the cinnamon crunch topping.
Greek Yogurt with mixed berries: skip the honey.
Soups (skip the bread bowl)
Ten Vegetable Soup
Chicken Noodle Soup
Salads (ask for the dressing on the side)
Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa: ask for no feta.
Greek Salad: no feta, add avocado and/or chicken or quinoa.
Spicy Thai Salad with Chicken
Asian Sesame Salad with Chicken
Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken: ask for no gorgonzola.
Green Goddess Cobb Salad with chicken: ask for no bacon and swap out the dressing for a balsamic vinegar/olive oil or vinaigrette.
My order: Cobb Salad - no bacon and with a vinaigrette dressing on the side.
Build a taco salad! Start with a lettuce base.
What I would skip: cheese, sour cream, white rice, tortilla wrap, tortilla chips
My order: lettuce base, chicken or beans, all the veggies, all the salsas and guacamole!
Au Bon Pain
Egg & Avocado on Skinny Wheat Bagel
Power Protein Wrap: skip the cheese and aioli
Classic Oatmeal: add fruit and nut butter or raw nuts
Fruit, Egg & Nuts Box
Combo of their fruit cup, fresh grapes, and mixed nuts
Tuscan White Bean
Turkey, Kale & Wild Rice
Salad (ask for the dressing on the side)
Chicken Cobb Avocado: skip the bacon and gorgonzola and swap in balsamic vinaigrette for the salad dressing.
Vegetarian Deluxe: skip the feta.
Thai Peanut Chicken: skip the crispy wontons.
Southwest Chicken: skip the crispy wontons.
My order: Turkey, Kale & Wild Rice Soup + Veg Delux salad (no feta) or salad or soup with a side of mixed nuts.
Mediterranean Square (skip the feta)
Oatmeal: skip the brown sugar. Top with nuts and fresh fruit.
Salads (salad dressing on the side)
Mediterranean: skip the feta.
Farmhouse: skip the cheese and bacon.
Pick your pair: do a half-sandwich with the below sandwich options and pair with a soup or salad.
Mediterranean: skip the feta.
Mediterranean Chicken: skip the feta.
Turkey Breast: skip the swiss cheese.
My order: I would do the Garden Vegetable soup with the Powerhouse Salad. And probably get a side of pickles :)
Einstein Bros. Bagels
My recommended bagel pick for any of the below orders: Ancient Grains.
Spinach Mushroom & Swiss: skip the swiss and swap in avocado.
Santa Fe Thintastic Egg White: skip the cheese and add in avocado.
Hummus Veg Out: skip the veggie schmear and add avocado.
Sides: Fruit Cup
My order: Hummus Veg Out, no veggie schmear, add avocado on the Ancient Grains Bagel.